Two weeks. Two playoff opponents. Two wins.
After knocking off New Orleans with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final seconds of the regulation last week, the Vikings put together a field goal drive in the final minutes Saturday in the Metrdome to beat Miami 20-17.
They did it in spite of themselves in the first half, when Daunte Culpepper fumbled three times and threw two interceptions. But Culpepper showed better patience in the second half, and, trailing only 7-3 after the half, was able to manage a more consistent offense. He ended with 244 yards, but it was it his extended drives that limited the Miami offense to only two drives (besides two Hail Marys at the end of the game) in the second half.
With a defense that contained Ricky Williams to 67 yards, it all added up to a win to send the Vikings to 5-10 on the season with a season finale at Detroit next week.
Miami came out and did exactly what everyone expected — ran Ricky Williams early and often. He picked up the initial first down of the game with a 13-yard run and rushed three of the first four plays from scrimmage. Then Jay Fiedler went to the air. He started by hitting James McKnight for 11 yards and first down, then went deep for Chris Chambers. Chambers got outside of Brian Williams, and when safety Ronnie Bradford failed to put a big hit on him Chambers was gone down the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 3:17 into the game.
The Vikings responded with a drive to the red zone on a 38-yard Culpepper scramble, but on second down he forced a pass into the end zone while scrambling and Sam Madison came away with the first turnover of the game.
Thanks to Miami penalties, the Vikings were able to force the Dolphins into a third-and-20 and held. The Vikings had another strong scoring opportunity go for nothing when a flea flicker at midfield found Randy Moss open deep, but the ball went off his outstretched fingertips and to the carpet for an incompletion. Four plays later the drive ended when Jason Taylor got the first sack of the game.
After a punt to the 2-yard line and a defensive stand, the Vikings were again in Dolphins territory for the third time in as many drives. But the second sack of Culpepper forced his second fumble, and this time the Dolphins recovered at the 31-yard line.
But Fiedler gave it right back on the next play, as Jack Brewer pulled down a bomb at the Minnesota 31-yard line.
This time the Vikings would draw points, but not without some tense moments. Jim Kleinsasser brought the ball to midfield on a screen that went for 24 yards, and Bennett picked up another first down with runs of 6 and 7 yards. D'Wyane Bates moved the chains with a 13-yard reception, and Culpepper brought the ball to the 9-yard line with a scramble. On the next play, Culpepper fumbled while scrambling — his third fumble of the game — and Bennett recovered. After another sack by Adewale Ogunleye, Minnesota settled for a 35-yard field goal from Gary Anderson to make it 7-3 with 4:21 left in the first half.
It would remain that way until the second half after James McKnight fumbled away the Dolphins' next possession and Lance Johnstone recovered; and the Vikings penalized themselves out of field goal position before Culpepper threw his second interception of the half, this one to Brock Marion in the end zone.
After all five of the Vikings' possessions ended in Dolphins territory and all Minnesota could manage was a field goal, Miami had a 7-3 halftime lead. It could have been Culpepper's worst half of football this season, as he fumbled three times — losing one — and threw two interceptions in the end zone. All that, and the Vikings still had a chance in the second half.
They took that chance and capitalized on the opening drive, as Culpepper managed it well without forcing the ball or getting too jumpy when flushed from the pocket. Moss got the drive moving with a 12-yard reception for a first down, and two Bennett touches pushed the ball across midfield. Passes to Bates and Byron Chamberlain put the ball inside the red zone, and after a 5-yard pass to Bates to pick up a third down the Vikings went to the ground game for the touchdown. Moe Williams got the score from 3 yards out, and the Vikings had their first lead of the game, 10-7, with 7:45 to play in the third quarter.
The Dolphins, however, answered like a playoff team, using Williams and McKnight heavily. Williams started it with a 17-yard run into Vikings territory. McKnight caught the next three passes, bringing the ball to the 11-yard line. The Vikings held on third down, but a late hit on Williams by Greg Biekert gave the Dolphins a fresh set of downs, and Fielder took advantage with a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jed Weaver with 1:19 to go in the third quarter.
Although the Vikings are not a playoff team this year, they responded like one as well while trailing 14-10. Once again, Bates picked up the first down to move the chains. Three plays later, needing 14 yards for the first down, Moss found a seam between his cornerback and the safety, and Culpepper got the ball to him for a 60-yard pickup to the 10-yard line. After Taylor and Ogunleye combined for a sack on second down, Culpepper dropped back and handed off to Moss on a reverse. Escaping from an initial tackler, Moss found Bates in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass and a 17-14 lead with 11:53 to play.
The Dolphins answered back with a game-tying field goal drive. It started with a 13-yard pass to tight end Randy McMichael, and Cris Carter moved the chains on the next third down with a 15-yard reception to the 21-yard line. Miami converted another third down thanks to a questionable pass interference call on Eric Kelly, where it looked like the receiver pushed off on Kelly and lost his balance. But three plays later, after Biekert defended a pass to Carter in the end zone, Mare came on to tie the game 17-17 with 6:09 to play.
Just like they had done against the Saints the week before, the Vikings drove and got the score they needed to seal the game. It started with a 13-yard pass to Chamberlain, and Culpepper picked up another first down with a 6-yard run. And then the confusion started at midfield. After a 13-yard pass to Chamberlain to the 42-yard line, the tight end limped off the field with an ankle injury.
That put the Vikings in a quandary while facing third-and-2. All week long they had been working a three-tight end formation on short yardage, but with Chamberlain out they inserted long snapper Brody Liddiard in Chamberlain's place. Culpepper didn't pick up the first down on a bootleg and the Vikings sent out the punting unit. However, with a 4-10 record and the assistants sending in a play head coach Mike Tice liked, the head coach decided to go for it on fourth-and-2.
They called another Culpepper run with Liddiard back in the game, and this time it worked with Culpepper picking up 3 yards. That got them close to field goal range, but Hayden Epstein was out of the game after injuring his knee on the previous kickoff. But when the Vikings were looking at fourth-and-3 on the 35-yard line, Gary Anderson came on and delivered with a 53-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to give the Vikings the 20-17 win.
It marked the second straight week the Vikings have knocked off a playoff team with a game-ending statement drive, giving further proof that this team may not be too far away from the 2003 playoffs themselves.
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